Burned by Perfect Match


Dearest Diary:

This is the worst day of my entire life.

Some brides get left at the altar, and that’s bad enough.

But how many of us--how many, I ask you?--are dumped on the honeymoon?

The comforting words I’ve heard so often in the last 24 hours just don’t help:

* “You’re a lovely little county with a perky personality and an ample tax base and you’ll be a great catch for that special someone.”

* “Sure, you have some problems--who isn’t worried about an overly plump deficit these days?--but at least you’re not paved over and glitzed up like your sisters down south.”

* “Don’t worry, dear--there’s more than one chief administrative officer in the sea.”

Maybe all that is true.

But if it is, then how could my David tell me he loved me, tell me he really, really wanted to be with me, tell me I was his dream county--and then, after four lousy days . . . .


Oh, diary, am I really that awful?

I wanted this one to last forever. He was so accomplished: David L. Baker, chief administrative officer of San Joaquin County, a veteran of 26 years in government, known far and wide for his winning ways with people and with financially challenged counties.

He said he wasn’t even worried by that little $15-million mix-up I had over federal funds for mental health. I don’t have to bore you with the messy details of this sordid affair, but I would like to remind you what David said about it before I made him Mr. Ventura County:

“My career has been devoted to problem-solving in county government,” he said. “I see that as a challenge.”

A challenge! At last, a man who could take real pleasure in the drudgery of fiscal finagling! I thought it was a match made in heaven, which is why I gave my CAO-in-shining-armor a yearly compensation package of $239,832.

But, then after four days--well, frankly, the honeymoon was over before it even started.

Complain, complain, complain: David was so busy complaining he didn’t have time for anything else! All I got from this so-called relationship was that famous six-page letter listing all of my supposed flaws--all shortcomings that David picked up in his four days on the job, but somehow never seemed to notice during our whirlwind courtship.

Believe me, there’s nothing for a county’s self-esteem like hearing about “overwhelming problems” and “near-financial chaos” and the lack of “organizational commitment to improve.” They think the mental health bill is high now? They ain’t seen nothin’ yet, Dear Diary. (Just kiddin’!)


OK, so maybe David made some valid points, as much as they hurt. Maybe my budget is a mess, and my top managers don’t cooperate with each other, and some of them are jerks, and I have a bigger deficit than anyone knows, and on and on, for the rest of his miserable letter.

But, David, I want to cry: All that is why I wanted you! I am not some storybook county, where all the budgets are sweetness and light reading; I am a real live county, with real municipal shortcomings. I have needs, David, burning needs! I need you--

Well, maybe not.

Maybe I don’t need a man who faxes me a Dear County letter and leaves town before even talking it over.

Maybe I don’t need a guy who isn’t willing to work on our relationship for at least six months or a year. Sure, I have problems--and, as CAO, David could have fired some of them, and reorganized the stuffing out of others. But there’s also counseling. There are groups. There’s just getting to know each other better as we sip cafeteria coffee and put together next week’s agenda.

Maybe I don’t need a big-time bureaucrat as much as I need someone like Cal Ripken Jr.--a decent guy who does a good job, and most of all, shows up for work each and every day, rain or shine, for as many years as it takes. (Note to myself: Does Cal know anything about governmental fiscal analysis?)

Anyway, I feel better now. So it didn’t work out with David: Someday, my CAO will come. I just know it!


Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or at